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Brendan Marks: After Truex snapped 0-for-80 streak, which NASCAR breakthrough is next?

Tribune News Service logo Tribune News Service 4/17/2019 By Brendan Marks, The Charlotte Observer
a group of people posing for the camera: Martin Truex Jr. celebrates in Victory Lane after winning the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond Raceway in Richmond, Va., on April 13, 2019. (Donald Page/Getty Images/TNS) **FOR USE WITH THIS STORY ONLY** © Donald Page/Getty Images North America/TNS Martin Truex Jr. celebrates in Victory Lane after winning the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond Raceway in Richmond, Va., on April 13, 2019. (Donald Page/Getty Images/TNS) **FOR USE WITH THIS STORY ONLY**

Take that proverbial monkey and rip it off Martin Truex Jr.’s back.

Truex, the 2017 NASCAR Cup Series champion, had a bit of a reputation that preceded him ahead of last weekend’s race at Richmond Raceway. In 80 career Cup races on short tracks, Truex was a mystifying 0 for 80. For someone as good as Truex, that 0-for always stood out for the wrong reasons.

Or at least it did until now. With Truex’s win on Saturday, one of NASCAR’s longtime streaks has finally been snapped.

That got us thinking: What other NASCAR breakthroughs are on the horizon for the rest of this season and the immediate future? Here are five feats that would be just as, if not more, gratifying than Truex finally finishing first at a short track:

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— Kyle Busch wins the Daytona 500: Busch already holds the prestigious honor of being the first driver in history to win at every track on NASCAR’s Cup schedule. That does not, however, mean Busch has won every race. And while he certainly has won his fair share — 54 total, including three this season — there’s one race that has eluded him: the Daytona 500.

Busch finished second at this year’s 500 behind Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Denny Hamlin, his best chance to date at winning one. If Busch races for as long as he thinks he can — he recently told the Observer he’d like to race for another decade — he’s got as good a shot as anyone. That said, there have been other great drivers, like Tony Stewart and Mark Martin, who never won NASCAR’s most prestigious race. Probability: 60 percent

— A driver earns double-digit wins in one season: While Busch will have to wait for another crack at his first Daytona 500 trophy, this one is very much still possible this season. Busch has three wins through the season’s first nine races, which puts him on pace for 12. That’s just pace, of course, but it’s worth pointing out the company that would put him in.

No driver has won double-digit races since Jimmie Johnson’s 10 victories in 2007. The modern-era record belongs to Jeff Gordon, who won an incredible 13 times in 1998. For Busch to do so, he’d be putting himself in a historic class. Both he and Kevin Harvick had their opportunities last season, and someone else like Hamlin could make their case this year, but right now Busch is the name to watch for getting to 10 wins. Probability: 90 percent; 50 percent for Busch this season

— Johnson gets his 85th win: It’s been a tough few years for Johnson, who hasn’t won a Cup race since the summer of 2017. For one of NASCAR’s all-time greats, that’s almost unthinkable. What makes Johnson’s drought even more difficult to see is how close he is to hitting a true milestone in the sport.

Only three drivers in Cup Series history — Richard Petty, David Pearson and Jeff Gordon — have reached 85 wins. That’s it, that’s the whole list. Johnson is currently sitting at 83, meaning any sort of hot streak this season could get him to that magic number. Of course, he also may be at a point in his career where those two wins are an impossibility. Probability: 20 percent

— Johnson wins record eighth Cup championship: Like Busch, Johnson gets to double-dip on this list. Only, winning 85 races would be nothing compared to this accomplishment.

Johnson is currently tied with Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt for the most Cup championships with seven. Johnson has always made it his stated goal to surpass those two legends and vault himself singularly into NASCAR lore. Of course, that would take a great upturn in production to accomplish. Aside from not having won in almost two calendar years, NASCAR’s new playoff system makes winning a championship more difficult than ever. That’s not to say Johnson can’t accomplish it, but at 13th in the points standings right now, it would be an uphill climb. Probability: 1 percent

— Hamlin finally wins his first title: Hamlin currently boasts the title that no NASCAR driver truly wants to own: most active wins without a championship. Hamlin has 33 wins in 14 full-time Cup seasons, and while he’s finished close to the title a handful of times — third overall in 2006 and 2013, second in 2010 — he’s never been able to close the deal.

This season may very well be his last best shot at doing so. Hamlin is third in the points standings with two wins. As Joey Logano proved last season, you just have to make it to the championship race at Homestead and then see how the chips fall. Having won there twice in his career, Hamlin could definitely make things interesting if he survives until the season’s final weekend. Probability: 10 percent.

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©2019 The Charlotte Observer (Charlotte, N.C.)

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